On the second leg of our Albanian journey, we visited Berat, the city of a thousand windows. Located in central Albania and split into two by the Osumi river, Berat is known for the Ottoman houses that cover both sides of the valley and gawk at each other across the river with its many perfectly spaced windows.
One of the two most impressive UNESCO World Heritage sites is located in Berat, the other in Gjirokaster, making the two must-see destinations in Albania for history and culture lovers. During a one week we stayed in Berat, you can visit Gjirokaster and the Albanian Riviera too, so more on that later. While Berat is quite condensed and walkable, you could cover a lot of ground fast, but this city deserves more time than a day trip visit from Tirana. With medieval architecture, historical museums, incredible valleys, and family-run wineries, there is plenty of reason to add Berat to your Albania itinerary. Here is our guide to Berat to help you have an unforgettable stay.
Explore the Neighborhoods of Berat
The neighborhoods into which the Osumi river splits Berat are Gorica, the Christian Quarters, and Mangalem, the Muslim Quarters. The neighborhoods are connected by Gorica Bridge, a seven-arch stone bridge from 1780. You could easily spend a few hours exploring the narrow streets between the Ottoman-style houses, wandering into shops and cafes among fig trees.
If you stay in Berat over the weekend, you will be delighted with the best people-watching experience on Bulevardi Republika. The long pedestrian street is located in the Mangalem Quarter, stretching from the Old Town, and is lined with cafes and shops. We sat every night with our ice cream in hand people-watching. It’s a picturesque sight when mountain Tomorr creates a stunning backdrop on one end and the citadel on the other. And on the weekends, the locals fill up the boulevard on their evening stroll. Be sure to stop at a popcorn vender or a corn roasting booth.
Climb to Berat Kala at Sunset
On one of the sides of the river, Gorica Hill is adorned by a stone castle – Berat Kala. This castle is the biggest in Albania. You will find churches and houses within its walls, and many families still live inside the citadel walls. The view over Berat from the designated lookout platforms is the best at sunset. To climb up to Berat Kala, you will have to conquer a steep hill, so we recommend visiting in the morning or the evening to avoid the midday heat.
Take a Trip to Osumi Canyon and Bogove Waterfall
The Osumi Canyon, 26 kilometers long, is Albania’s largest. The canyon has interesting rock formations carved by the river. There are marked viewpoints from the top and swimming holes down below, and in spring months, you can go rafting down the rapids.
Nearby the Osumi Canyon, the Bogove waterfall is a green and shady escape with an icy swimming pool at the end of a half an hour walk. A trip to the Osumi Canyon and Bogove waterfall is just the thing to do on a hot summer day in Albania.
Wander Around Gjirokaster
The city of Gjirokaster is another UNESCO World Heritage Site that should not be missed in Albania. Known as the ‘City of Stone’ and ‘City of Silver’ for the color of the rock, Gjirokaster competes with Berat for the title of the most charming city. The Old Bazar is what makes Gjirokaster so attractive – a web of shops and cafes decorated with colorful handwoven carpets and crafts.
After wandering around the Old Bazar, head to the Gjirokaster castle for stunning views over the city. Out of 158 castles in Albania, this one might be the nicest. And make sure to stop by the Gjirokaster Museum inside the castle, which displays information about the city’s history and some of its residents.
Relax and Rejuvenate on the Albanian Riviera
The western coast of Albania is bountiful with pristine beaches along the Adriatic Sea that are fondly nicknamed ‘the Albanian Seychelles.’ We swam is some of the most precious swimming spots are found between Saranda and Vlora. Saranda is the Albanian Riviera’s unofficial capital and the most popular tourist spot. During the communist era, Saranda was exclusively used by people of power and fame, and ordinary civilians were not allowed to access the main beaches. Luckily, Saranda is now flourishing and available to everyone, and everyone can enjoy its beauty. Many foreigners fall in love with Saranda and decide to stay permanently.
The best way to explore the beaches is by renting a car. It’s a scenic drive, and you are free to stop in any village along the way. You can base yourself in the town called Himara for a couple of nights as you explore the lovely beaches and coves nearby.
The highlight of the Albanian Riviera is visiting the Ksamil islands, located south of Himara. Ksamil village is situated inside Butrint National Park, and not far off the coast, four little islands huddle together in the sea. The islands connected by a sandbar, called the twins, are the most visited, usually by boat. But in such scrumptious crystal clear waters, it’s a luxurious swim to the island too. There is also kayaking and snorkeling available in Ksamil.
Go Wine Tasting at an Albanian Winery
Albania makes very underrated wine, production of which is starting to flourish after years of prohibition during Communist times. There are wineries throughout the country, and as luck would have it, some of the best wineries are located just 20 minutes from Berat.
Despite a 50-year break in production, Cobo winery has been run by the Cobo family with over a century of wine-making experience. Spend the day touring the property and the cellars and finish the experience with a degustation accompanied by a cheese plate.
Try Local Food
We’ve already introduced you to some of our favorite Albanian dishes. But Berat puts its twist on traditional foods. Find a local summer drink native to this region made from rose petals, lemon juice, water, and sugar. It is brewed for days before being served cold. One of the benefits of traveling while the roses are in bloom! Check out this video recipe!
Raki is a country-wide famous alcoholic drink, but distilling walnuts make it in Berat! While dining at one of the restaurants recommended below, order the locally made raki to compare the taste. To accompany your beverages, order the byrek for breakfast, meat and leek pie for lunch, and baked stuffed zucchini for dinner. And for dessert, try the classic baklava or Kabuni – a fried rice dish with raisins and cinnamon.
These are some of our favorite restaurants in Berat.
Lili Homemade Food is situated in a home, so dining here feels like eating at a friend’s house, spoiled with warm hospitality and hearty local dishes.
Eating at Wildor, surrounded by the stone and wood décor combination of red velvet chairs. It almost feels like you might be royalty. The food spread is as impressive as at this restaurant, claiming to be the best in Berat.
Aside from spectacular traditional dishes served at Antigoni restaurant, it also offers a fantastic view of the thousand windows of Berat. Moreover, the setting here makes for an ideal romantic dinner spot.
A hotel shout-out!
Don’t be fooled by the homemade sign on this chair. Our hotel, Master Hotel, in Berat was one of our favorites, EVER! It was a small, family-run establishment where the entire family worked hard to make it a lovely stay. When we sat on the veranda overlooking the city, they brought us homemade treats and the breakfast was different everyday. It was a perfect place to stay, close to the castle and bridges.
The diversity of Berat and everything the region has to offer has infinitely impressed us. The centuries of history, medieval architecture, traditions, and not to mention Maldivian quality beaches have been so fascinating. We hope more people discover Albania’s treasures for themselves. We hope this guide has inspired you to add Albania to your itinerary. If you still have questions we didn’t answer in this post, please drop them in the comments below!